MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 18 August) — Much has been written about the passing on of former Chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-Reformist group and former Secretary of the then Office of Muslim Affairs, Dimas Pundato. He was a member of the Top 90 and a Moro/Meranaw leader known to many. The outpouring of tributes to him only shows his impact and contribution. But, as a close relative, my main memory of Bapa Dimas or Papao to us, is different. I mostly think of him as father to my cousins and the husband of my aunt, the late Auntie Gero. My cousins can better articulate how Bapa Dimas was like as their father and hero. There is one aspect of Bapa Dimas’ person that struck me deeply and introduced to me the words “liberation”, “Bangsamoro” and “struggle” when I was still very young to grapple with these concepts.
I would only hear of Bapa Dimas when I was young. He was a constant presence to us all although I do not remember ever seeing him, even though I grew up with his children. But I would see and feel him from the way his comrades at the MNLF talk about him and address him. Even though Bapa Dimas wasn’t around, they would speak as if he was present and call him using honorific titles and never by his name. There is one title which I thought was funny at that time but only later did I understand that it was a sign of utmost respect: “So lokes” or the Old Man. To me, why would they call my Bapa Dimas “so Lokes” when he was not an old man, in fact, he was my dashingly handsome uncle!
I was an annoyingly curious child then. Whenever I visit my cousins next door, I would segue a bit and talk to my Uncle’s comrades. “Antona-a i liberation? Bangsamoro tano pen na Meranaw tano pen? So struggle, antona-a nan?” (What is liberation? We are Bangsamoro and Meranaws at the same time? What about struggle, what is that?) I rarely get a response from them even if I would always pester them. They would shoo me away and ask me to go find my cousins and play. Once I found them dead silent while listening to a tape playing. They were all teary-eyed. A man was singing “O papanok ako bo na monot ako sa samber” (If only I am a bird, I will fly with the wind.) to the tune of “Oh, My Darling Clementine.” It was in poetic Meranaw so I could only understand the words “papanok” meaning bird and “monot”, to go.
Against my talkative nature, I did not ask them to explain things to me but I silently listened with them while standing at a corner unknown to them. Tears also streamed down my unseasoned eyes, not because of the soulful melody, but seeing a group of burly men reduced to tears. I felt then that there was something beyond my understanding that was going on between those men — I learned later to be among Bapa Dimas’ trusted MNLF cadres — and Bapa Dimas whom I had never seen until then. I would catch the words Kumander, so Lokes, MNLF, struggle, Bangsamoro, and liberation but could not get any one of them to explain to me.
I left them before they could notice me because I thought it would embarrass them to know I saw them crying. I went home red-eyed and my Daddy thought I had a fight with somebody.
“Da minimbono aken, Daddy. Kiyagagawan ako mambo. Antonaa bes siran Daddy?” (I did not fight with anybody, Daddy. I was just touched. Who are they, Daddy?)
“Maito ka pen. Di ngka pen saboten anan pasin.” (You are still very young. You would not understand just yet.) My Daddy gently dismissed my questioning. I knew then that who they are, what they are, and what they are fighting for were difficult things for me to comprehend and even more challenging for my usually patient Daddy to explain to me.
Now Bapa Dimas is gone. Those concepts I first encountered when I was a child are still fluid to this very day and remain a challenge to us. But, rest now, dear Bapa Dimas. You have done your part. Allah has called you back and you are now with some of your comrades who went ahead of you–those I have heard on tape bravely shout “Allahu Akbar” amidst the sound of gunshots. Your comrades’ devotion and sincerity to you are something I have never witnessed ever given to another man. Your part of the Bangsamoro struggle physically ends now, but will never be forgotten. It will remain part of our history and a continuing story that we all must contribute to. If, we must charter an inclusive destiny we can call our own.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (Arabic: إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ, ʾinnā li-llāhi wa-ʾinna ʾilayhi rājiʿūna)
“Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Him do we return.”
Rest in peace, Papao, Bapa Dimas.
As the song of your comrades goes, “Maregen so pengganat, na lebi so pengganatan.” (It may be painful to leave, but it is more heartbreaking for those left behind.) Your death has not only orphaned my cousins–you and the other Moro revolutionary leaders who have now left us have made orphans of us all. The heart grieves but despite everything that convinces us of the contrary, we shall hope and dream the dream that you have dreamt of and aspired for, for the Bangsamoro. It shall live on.
(MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elin Anisha Guro is the OIC Director of the University Library of the Mindanao State University’s main campus in Marawi City)